Illustrating the Process is a Process

July 31, 2017

One of my responsibilities as Project Manager for VARI, is tracking and documenting the progress of our projects.  I’m a big fan of the classics for this; spreadsheets and report writing, but its always struck me there are some things these methods miss out on.

Pyke Clock mechanism illustration by Eileen Budd
Research is the engine room of museum work.  Pyke Clock mechanism illustration by Eileen Budd, donated to Temple Newsom Museum

We often talk about projects as if they are clockwork objects, you simply look after the mechanism and off they go!  In reality, the mechanism isn’t so much clockwork as a biomechanical piece of precision engineering, nuanced by human negotiation, imagination, communication, understanding and drive.

Figuring out the particular formula for each project is a process and one that doesn’t often get recorded.  Which is a shame, because processes are interesting.

VARI holds the development of new methodologies and interdisciplinary working at its core and so, alongside our tried and tested spreadsheets and reports, here are few other things I couldn’t format into a table, utilising some of my methods as an artist for capturing our process and our progress.

Where to begin…?

Where to begin? Illustration by Eileen Budd
Where to begin? Getting more from classical methods. Illustration by Eileen Budd

Research is transformative.

It’s the foundation stone of museum work, helping us to continually understand, inform and re-interpret our collections.  It doesn’t just happen in the Research Department either, it’s everywhere.  My colleagues in other departments, Learning, Collections, Estates and Conservation to name a few, all have a wealth of abilities, knowledge and methods that can inform research.  One of our aims in VARI is to tap into those rich seams of knowledge and bring them to the fore.


VandA Bees illustration by Eileen Budd
V&A Bees illustration by Eileen Budd

Cross departmental working happens daily in our museum, but deconstructing the methods used and applying them to specific projects does not.

Recognising everyone’s speciality and understanding the important role that has was one of the first things we had to do.

Bringing people (our team) from across the organisation to work together, solving problems, or raising new research questions is hugely beneficial.  Everyone brings their own experience and unique set of skills.

Problem solving together. Illustration by Eileen Budd
Problem solving together. Illustration by Eileen Budd

This opportunity to kick ideas around with colleagues helps us to look at things differently, giving a fresh perspective on familiar issues or objects and from there, new possibilities start to develop.

The wonderful thing about new possibilities is that, when we start to really explore them, these discussions can ignite your imagination and enthusiasm, this is the life spark for maintaining drive and moral in a project.

VARI Cabinet of Curiosity
Cabinet of Curiosity Illustration by Eileen Budd (classically a cabinet of curiosity wasn’t complete without a taxidermy crocodile!)

Cross collaboration also helps to keep your sense of humour and perspective, another vital element of project working, particularly when there are a number of simultaneous projects with diverse expertise, research questions and interests.

VARI Artists in Residence Illustration by Eileen Budd
VARI Artists in Residence Illustration by Eileen Budd

There is also a lot to be learned from external practitioners, such as our new VARI Artist in Residence who will be using data as a medium.  I wouldn’t know where to begin in approaching the servers of data we hold as a creative material, but I’m really looking forward to learning from them when they open up our world of data.

Encounters on the Shop Floor illustration by Eileen Budd
Encounters on the Shop Floor illustration by Eileen Budd

We’ve also learned there are some research questions we need external collaborators to help us answer and so, in the Encounters on the Shop Floor project, we’re experimenting with what we are calling the design cluster method.

So many worlds.
So many worlds. Inaugural Lecture Invitation illustration by Eileen Budd

The collaborative exchange of knowledge, skills and expertise that VARI has embarked on doesn’t fit all that easily into a spreadsheet.

It’s changing how we think and work.

Research in Progress illustration by Eileen Budd
Research in Progress illustration by Eileen Budd

Slowly surfacing.




About the author

July 31, 2017

Eileen is responsible for the smooth running of VARI and its activities. She is also an illustrator and has had a varied career, including being a rescue scuba diver in...

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